Warmbaths (Northern Province)

 

Warmbaths is in the Northern Province (northern Transvaal   pre 1994), 112 km north of Pretoria, in an area originally known by the Sotho as “Bela Bela” (boiling point). The town owes its establishment to the discovery of hot springs by two hunters, one of whom established a farm called “Het Bad” meaning “the bath” around the hot springs. In 1873 the president of the Transvaal Republic persuaded the Volksraad to purchase the area of the baths. It has been under state control ever since. A town was proclaimed in 1882, originally called Hartingsburg, the name was changed to Warmbaths in 1921.

The springs are popular for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Agriculture is also of importance and wheat, groundnuts, maize and citrus are grown in the district.

AV Sacke was already well established as a farmer in the Warmbaths district by 1904. Jewish names recorded in Warmbaths from 1910 1920 include the following: Charlson, Cohen, Feinstone, Gallombuch, Hermann, Kellman, Kessler, Lapin, Lewis, Lustick, Matz, Miller, Osrin, Paiken, Ravid, Tager, Young, Zinn and Zway.

There was also a Jewish presence at Rooiberg, a tin mining center 50 km west of Warmbaths, in 1909 when mining began. Ephraim Bernstine [Bernstein] signed on as a tin drier at the Rooiberg tin mine in 1910.
The Warmbaths congregation was established in 1928. Little is known of the religious life of the town prior to that, but High Holy Day services were held in the home of Mr & Mrs Louis Davidowitz, who settled in Warmbaths around 1922. Rev M F Rootshtain was the first spiritual leader.

The Synagogue/Communal Hall was built in 1945. Before that, services were held in the Town Hall, dining rooms of the various Jewish owned hotels, and the hall of the Methodist Church. In 1948 a house was built next to the Synagogue/Communal Hall for the rabbi.

Jewish life in Warmbaths was at its peak in the mid 1940’s. It was one of the few small towns where daily minyanim were held practically the whole year. In the 1950s it became the regional centre for the district and Rabbi Hazdan paid weekly visits to Potgietersrus to perform shechita and teach Hebrew. The community had a cemetery, a Burial and Benevolent Society, a Zionist Society and local branches of the Magen David Adom and Ort Oze.

By the 1970’s the number of Jews had dropped considerably. The last minister, Rabbi Shifman, left by about 1969. By 1975 the congregation was almost defunct. In 1985 the Warmbaths Hebrew Congregation comprised 8 men, 9 women and 8 children. Friday night minyanim (prayer groups) are still held on a fairly regular basis because of the number of Jewish visitors to the holiday resort.

Jews ran many of the businesses in the town. A report in 1939 stated that of the 40 Jews in Warmbaths, eight were shopkeepers, four were hoteliers, one was a doctor, two were farmers and two were in dual occupations. Over the years there have been a number of Jewish owned boarding houses and hotels catering for the many visitors to the popular holiday resort. Some of the establishments offered kosher cuisine.

Morris Isaacson was mayor of Warmbaths in 1934. Towards the end of his life, he became involved in black education and welfare. A crèche named after his wife, was the first of its kind to be built in Soweto. Three other crèches as well as the Morris Isaacson Primary and High Schools were also built in Soweto. A bursary fund was also established.

The official census recorded 40 Jews in 1936; 172 in 1951; 48 in 1980 and 8 in 1991. Community records show substantially lower numbers, i.e. 60 in 1953 and 30 in 1980. In 1985 there were 24 Jews in Warmbaths. By 1997 Mr and Mrs Basil Hack were the only Jewish residents in the town.